Lights Out 7 Elevates Radial Tire Racing To New Heights
Photos by Kelly Leslie | On Point Image
Over the last seven years, Donald Long has established himself as one of drag racing’s most capable promoters, creating a buzz in the drag racing world centered around one thing – the capability of the drag radial-style tire as the foundation of incredible performances on the track. Long’s Duck X Productions touts itself as the ‘Home Of The Baddest Small Tire Races In The World’ and lives up to that billing with two races per year, Lights Out, and No Mercy, held at Ozzy Moya’s South Georgia Motorsports Park.
DXP’s Lights Out races have traditionally become the end of the winter break for radial tire racers, with many thrashing to get their cars completed in the days leading up to the Lights Out 7 event after winter changes. One Radial Vs. The World racer in particular – Keith Berry – didn’t even have a running car when the race began, but managed to take home the insane $50,000-plus purse at the end of the weekend.
Radial vs. The World winner Keith Berry’s car wasn’t anywhere close to being ready in the days leading up to the event. During the offseason, Berry changed from his well-known LS engine combination to a new block 4.500-inch bore-space CN block featuring CFE’s SBX cylinder heads, built by Proline Racing. In order to make this engine project happen, Berry actually purchased the entire dragster, pulled the engine to have it redone, then put the dragster up for sale.
“As of Monday at 5:00 PM on race week it had one side of the headers tacked up,” Berry tells us. “Ryan Rakestraw of RK Racecraft worked until 2:00 AM that night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night until it was done. We then fired it up, loaded it up and got on the road to SGMP at 2:30 AM Thursday morning. We had to do the full turbo kit, wiring, plumbing, tanks and more. The powder coater was doing tanks and brackets after midnight.”
Although he only qualified 27th in the 32-car field, Berry busted through the group in eliminations to set up an insane final round with none other than Stevie “Fast” Jackson. In a fitting ending to Lights Out 7, Berry strapped a .040-second advantage on Jackson on the starting line, taking the win on the holeshot despite Jackson’s quicker pass. The boards lit up with Berry’s 3.934 at 192.69 mph to Jackson’s losing 3.896 at 194.80 mph. The difference at the strip was .002, or 6.85 inches at nearly 200 mph!
Berry has a big heart to go with his big wallet and big power. In a touching gesture, he’s donated some of his winnings to an extremely worthy cause. Fellow racer Chris Kephart’s son AJ has been battling cancer for a few years now; berry and his family have been some of AJ’s biggest supporters as he combats his condition.
“My wife had to leave early, but said to me, ‘If we win let’s donate to AJ.’ It had already crossed my mind but with her texting that out of the blue there is no doubt it was meant to be in our minds. We have sent them a nice amount and plan on sending more,” says Berry.
Rick Thornton put together his Pro Mod with the engine from his well-known Corvette to run in the Radial vs. The World class and broke into the 3s, qualifying tenth with a 3.98 at 190.24 mph.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen ‘Burndown’ Don Burton at the track. The Maryland-based racer made a bunch of changes to his DMC Racing-built chassis and engine combination, then made it all the way to the quarter-finals in the super-competitive Pro 275 class. His best pass of 4.25 in eliminations puts him solidly in the field of this new class.
Texan Jason Michalak continued his assault on Radial vs. The World with a world-record 3.876 at 196.07 mph to top the qualifying ladder. On elimination day, Michalak went all the way to the semifinals before losing to Stevie Jackson in a tough side-by-side 3-second pass.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Stevie Jackson put the world on notice that Shadow would be ready to go for the race, and he didn’t disappoint, making a healthy charge all the way to the final round before losing to Berry on a holeshot in a wild race.
None other than Philadelphia Eagles star defensive end Fletcher Cox owns this Radial vs. The World machine, driven by Shawn Ayers. The team qualified with a stout 4.05 – which put them into the 20th spot – but lost in the second round to Keith Haney’s brand-new Camaro. Just a year ago the race to the 3s was on, and now a 4.05 only gets you the number-20 qualifier spot. Technology is amazing.
RvW competitor Brad Edwards headed to Georgia with high hopes. He had been quiet all winter as he and engine builder Pete Harrell made changes to their stock-suspension Mustang, which features a twin-turbo big-block Chevrolet combination. They had some electrical gremlins upon arrival, figured those out, made another pass and decided to run the car all the way out. After eating up some engine parts on that pass, Edwards ordered more parts to repair the car – spending a fortune on overnight shipping – but ultimately determined that the cylinder head casting was broken too severely to repair at the racetrack. The problem was eventually traced to an electrical connector that failed, which prevented the water-injection system from activating under boost.
Ultimate Street competitor Joel Greathouse has a prominent racing resume. The longtime competitor has won nearly everywhere he’s gone, and Lights Out 7 was no exception. He qualified third in the class, running a brand-new ProCharger-boosted combination. During eliminations he took out Dave Fiscus, Ronny Rhodes, and John Albrecht Jr. on his way to the final round against number-one qualifier Butch Kemp. There, Kemp turned on the dreaded redlight by .018-second, handing Greathouse the win before the race ever started. In the final round, Greathouse cranked off an insane 4.76, his quickest pass of the weekend and a new class record. The KBX Performance-backed, John Kolivas-tuned machine is just that on elimination day – a machine!
In one of the craziest sequences of the weekend in RvW, Kyle Huettel got loose during a run against California’s Dave Bowman, which caused the blown machine to cross the centerline and gather up Bowman’s car in the process. Ultimately, both drivers are OK with the exception of some bumps and bruises. Bowman’s car is all but destroyed, and to add insult to injury, on his way home Bowman had a failure in the front of his tow rig and ended up running off the road. We hope he can get his racing program back on track.
David DeMarco made the long trek down from Boston to complete with his blown machine in RvW. The team had spent some time testing previous to the event and had plans on going rounds. In this photo, Demarco had an oil filter failure after the burnout during the qualifying round, but the team managed to remedy the issue and qualify with a solid 4.10. In the first round, he ran into Josh Klugger and went down, as Klugger turned in a 3.92 to DeMarco’s 4.18.
Speaking of Josh Klugger, he was part of not one but two record-setting pairings during the course of the weekend. In the first round of qualifying, he knocked down a 3.93 right next to Daniel Pharris’ own 3.93, turning in the quickest side-by-side RvW passes to that point. Later in the weekend, he was part of a pairing with DeWayne Mills to up the ante, with Klugger’s personal-best 3.91 blast just short of Mills’ 3.884.
And Pharris? He also turned in a personal best during the weekend, cracking off his first 3-second pass and landing seventh on the RvW ladder with a stout 3.927 at a whopping 204.14 mph. They moved on to the semifinals on Sunday before bowing out.
Lights Out 7 marked the return of radial-tire legend David Wolfe to the RvW class. Wolfe’s trendsetting ways in the past helped to grow this class to what it is, but at the end of qualifying he found himself on the outside looking in, as his 4.144 qualifying best landed him one spot out of the 32-car field. As the first alternate, he got the call for the first round, but was unable to muster the power needed to get past the Michalak freight train.
We’d be doing a disservice to our coverage if we didn’t mention the appearance of the Street Outlaws stars on the SGMP property. Shawn Ellington (Murder Nova) qualified 11th in Pro 275 and went a couple of rounds on Sunday, eventually going down to event winner Barry Mitchell in the semifinal round. Big Chief, on the other hand, didn’t make it into the RvW field with his new combination, but did manage to break out a stout 4.10 in a match race at the end of the day on Sunday. Not a bad showing for the 405 boys.
“Don’t give up after looking at the race ladder,” says X275 winner Ron Rhodes. “We had Jamie Stanton and Rich Bruder on our side of the ladder and both of them went 4.40. I knew I had my work cut out for me if I got the chance to face them. We persevered, made some good calls on the tuneup, and took the win. I’m very proud and honored for everyone on my team and thankful for all of my sponsors.”
Rhodes qualified seventh, but ran like a bracket car on Sunday. He took the winner’s cash back to Delaware, winning over Jared Johnston in the final when Johnston spun early and had to get out of it.
Car owner Jason Carter and driver/transmission builder extraordinaire Mark Micke had quite the weekend, showing up to the event without an engine, which was subsequently delivered by Kris Nelson of Nelson Competition Engines from Florida. Micke and the gang thrashed hard to get the car together, installing a new FuelTech engine management system before finally getting it together in the last round of qualifying, making the show with a 4.02. On elimination day, Micke ran a 4.007 in the first round to eliminate Eddie Harrison before running into the Steve Jackson juggernaut in round two. Although he went down, it was with a fight – he drove the car to its first-ever 3-second pass, carding a 3.978 at over 200 mph.
Barry Mitchell turned in what’s possibly the craziest feat of the entire weekend. Mitchell was competing in two classes – Pro 275 and Outlaw Drag Radial – and qualified second in each class. Not only that, on Sunday he had to run five rounds of eliminations in each class to make it to the final round, which he did. But that’s not all. Nine of those ten passes were run between 4.20 and 4.30 in the eighth-mile, with a 762 cubic-inch nitrous engine, not exactly the easiest missile to tune in changing weather conditions. The best part? He won both classes, taking the cash over Ron Hamby in ODR and Steve Drummond in Pro 275.
That’s what Lights Out is all about.